7/26/2015

Godzilla in Hell #1

Godzilla in Hell #1 Story and art by James Stokoe, Jeff Zornow, Sara Richard.  Godzilla/Gojira created by Tomoyuki Tanaka, Ishirō Honda, Shigeru Kayama, Eiji Tsubaraya.
Story and art by James Stokoe, Jeff Zornow, Sara Richard.

Godzilla/Gojira created by Tomoyuki Tanaka, Ishirō Honda, Shigeru Kayama, Eiji Tsubaraya.

Whether acting as an agent of destruction or as a defender of humanity from other kaiju, Godzilla is more a force of nature than an individual creature whose behavior can be characterized as exhibiting clearly recognizable motives. So does the concept of eternal damnation even apply to such an entity? How'd you go about punishing him? Wouldn't the mercurial monster be perfectly at home settling into such a horrific place? The 5-part miniseries Godzilla in Hell takes a stab at answering these questions with the creative teams changing for each issue. For the opening chapter, the writer/artist is James Stokoe, whose excellent Godzilla: The Half-Century War was a clever commentary on Godzilla's ever-changing film career. So he's a pretty good choice to start the series.

Like Alice disappearing down the rabbit hole, Godzilla enters Hell by falling down his own very large, very dark, deep pit. I like how Stokoe's large vertical panels seem to suggest that he was cast out from a higher realm like another fallen angel. After finally crashing and pulling out of the resulting impact crater, Godzilla encounters the famous epitaph "Abandon All Hope Ye Who Enter Here" carved out as a gigantic stone relief many times his size. Hell is built on a suitably massive scale to say the least. But an unimpressed Godzilla simply burns the sign down with his radioactive breath. Does our angry protagonist even feel "hope" or "despair"?

This Hell is fantastically surreal. A desolate landscape as far as the sky can see that glows faint red, dotted by deformed structures. Stokoe's art is very lush with textures rendered by delicate cross hatching. The overall effect is that the setting isn't just grandiose, but vaguely threatening and extremely claustrophobic. This looks like a separate Hell designed for kaiju, as it's largely bereft of human or demonic presence with one notable example I'll discuss shortly. A smoke plume created by the destruction of the epitaph implies that Godzilla has skipped Limbo and entered the Circle of Lust. Indeed, the comic's most impressive visual, which is a reference to Dante Alighieri, is a violent superstorm composed not of clouds but of countless human forms that engulfs and even manages to push the mighty Godzilla around.

Otherwise, this part of Hell just feeds into his appetite for stomping on other kaiju. And my final impression is that Godzilla hasn't so much been punished as been tested and came out on top. But there are still 4 issues left before his journey through the underworld is over. So it's a little hard to predict if events will always play in Godzilla's favor. But I'm hoping he gets to bump into his many kaiju rivals before the story's over.

7/13/2015

Comic-Con Album Pt 28

 Raye Hollitt, Comic-Con International, San Diego Convention Center, Marina District, San Diego, California. Ilford HP5+ Black and White 35mm negative film. © Michael Buntag.
Raye Hollitt, Comic-Con autograph area.

One last detour to the autograph area before I boarded the train leaving San Diego.

This marks the end point for this segment of the series. I hope you enjoyed my nostalgic excursion to Comic-Cons past. And if you were at this year's convention, I hope you had a great time. I'm sorry I wasn't there. Peace out!

Pt 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27

7/12/2015

Comic-Con Album Pt 27

Portfolio review, Comic-Con International, San Diego Convention Center, Marina District, San Diego, California. Ilford HP5+ Black and White 35mm negative film. © Michael Buntag.
Portfolio review session, Comic-Con exhibit hall

Comic-Con portfolio reviews: where countless dreams about making it in the industry go to get crushed under the boot of weary editors. This cattle-call style process is nerve-wracking enough without having  to deal with all the surrounding commotion. Unlike other publishers, DC held their sessions at their massive booth. All the better to intimidate hapless victims, I mean inspire the fans.

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Webcomic: Manfeels Park

Manfeels Park by Erin and Morag
Great Expectations
Go to: Manfeels Park by Erin and Morag

7/11/2015

Comic-Con Album Pt 26

Mighty Mouse cosplay, Comic-Con International, San Diego Convention Center, Marina District, San Diego, California. Ilford Delta 3200 Black and White 35mm negative film.  © Michael Buntag.
Mighty Mouse cosplay, Comic-Con Masquerade
Mighty Mouse cosplay, Comic-Con International, San Diego Convention Center, Marina District, San Diego, California. Ilford Delta 3200 Black and White 35mm negative film.  © Michael Buntag.
Mighty Mouse cosplay, Comic-Con Masquerade

The Mouse is back! Last year's hit contestant was invited to appear on stage one more time. For an encore, he danced to the song "My Sharona."

This was the first time I attended the Masquerade from beginning to end. I recommend that Comic-Con attendees do this at least once. It's an amazing and inclusive celebration of fandom. But it does tend to sap one's energy, which will be sorely needed for Sunday bargain shopping.

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Cartoon: Goliath

Goliath by Kate Beaton
Go to: Hark! A Vagrant by Kate Beaton

Video: Kate Beaton Teaches You How to Draw the Fat Pony

Kate Beaton Teaches You How to Draw the Fat Pony
Go to: Time (via Kate Beaton)

7/10/2015

Comic-Con Album Pt 25

Cindy (Furgatch) Freeling, aka Princess Anne Droid, Harware Wars, Comic-Con International, San Diego Convention Center, Marina District, San Diego, California. Ilford Delta 3200 Black and White 35mm negative film. © Michael Buntag.
Cindy Freeling, Comic-Con autograph area.

Located across from the Portfolio Review Area, Comic-Con's Autograph Area is the pop culture equivalent of Artist's Alley - A motley gathering of celebrities, starlets, has-beens, and ne'er-do-wells detached from the madness of the main exhibit hall. Some of them can be very charming, such as the lovely lady pictured above. Most of the time, the atmosphere of the hall is relatively sedate.

Speaking of has-beens - I don't remember at which Comic-Con this took place at, but I once spotted Wil Wheaton when I was rushing between review sessions. These were still the lean years before Wil's tireless blogging and courting of the Web 1.0 crowd would catapult him to nerdlebrity status. This was before Nemesis. Before w00tstock. Before The Guild. Before geeks conquered the media landscape. Those days were filled with high anxiety, self-doubt, narcissistic brooding, fannish nostalgia, and a pathological disconnect as narrated with a heavy dose of self-depreciating humour in his autobiography several years later. Of course, I didn't know that at the time. To me he was just the actor formerly known as Wesley Crusher.

Wil's table was located so that he was split off from the majority of the autograph group, his table facing so that his back was turned towards them. Wil didn't have any immediate neighbours to either side of him. Well, at least I didn't see anyone when I was there. He was alone. And he looked utterly miserable just sitting there. A part of me wanted to walk up to him, say "hi", and tell him that not everyone hated him when he was on ST:TNG. But a bigger part of me felt awkward about approaching someone in such a state, felt unsure about how to reach out. I was too wrapped up in my own personal shit at the time. And I've gradually realised that I'm not the most empathic individual. Or maybe I was just paralysed by a sense of impotence to help. So I moved on to whatever it was I was currently occupied with.

An that's why I don't have a picture of Uncle Willy.

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Video: How to Make It as a Cartoonist

Kate Beaton: How to Make It as a Cartoonist.
Go to: Time (via Kate Beaton)

7/09/2015

Comic-Con Album Pt 24

Saya, Blood: The Last Vampire PVC Figures, Comic-Con International, San Diego Convention Center, Marina District, San Diego, California. Ilford HP5+ Black and White 35mm negative film. © Michael Buntag.
Saya PVC, Comic-Con exhibit hall.

So many anime-based toys in one place. And not nearly enough cash to buy them. I'm not a very avid toy collector, but Comic-Con sorely tests my resistance to unbridled consumerism with it's sheer variety of merch being sold. I suppose a lot of attendees can relate to that scene in Paul were Clive Gollings lovingly eyes a katana, only to put it back down when the vendor informs him about its retail price. But it's the little things you can afford that begins to add up once you try to get them all.

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Doctor Fate #1 and Superman #41

Doctor Fate #1 Writer: Paul Levitz, Sonny Liew Artist: Sonny Liew, Ibrahim Moustafa Colors: Lee Loughridge Letters: Nick J. Napolitano.  Doctor Fate created by Gardner Fox and Howard Sherman.
Doctor Fate #1
Writer: Paul Levitz, Sonny Liew
Artist: Sonny Liew, Ibrahim Moustafa
Colors: Lee Loughridge
Letters: Nick J. Napolitano

Doctor Fate created by Gardner Fox and Howard Sherman.

I like the idea of Doctor Fate more than I like the character itself. In reality he doesn't distinguish himself enough from all the other sorcerer supreme types. The DC Universe is awash with magicians from decades of continuity - lone wolf John Constantine (until he joined Justice League Dark) currently being the most popular character to come from their ranks. On the other hand, Fate is traditionally associated with the Justice Society of America. But I haven't been keeping up with that group, post Flashpoint, or know if they even still exist. So can veteran writer Paul Levitz infuse a more unique perspective onto such a staid figure? Not yet, judging from this issue.

The new Fate is a NYC resident and pre-med student Khalid Nassour, called on by ancient Egyptian goddess Bastet to fulfill his destiny by donning the magical helmet and fight against her evil counterpart Anubis. The latter seems intent on initiating a new worldwide deluge. Yeah, it's not a very original good vs. evil set-up for a superhero comic. And its use of mythology already feels old fashioned in our post-Neil Gaiman/Alan Moore era. Levitz is clearly attempting to make his characters sound more relevant and hip (and look, they're texting each other with their smartphones). But the for now, Khalid comes across as little more than a cipher for the reluctant hero.

If the dialogue can be a tad generic, the title's promise comes from new artist Sonny Liew. I'm pleased to see the current DC regime moving away from the baroque New 52 house style. Liew's emaciated forms combined with Lee Loughridge's strong colors produce an unsettling psychedelic effect, which compliments the story's fantastic milieu. But here's hoping Khalid does something more interesting with his costume, which for now is just him wearing the helmet over his normal street clothes.

SUPERMAN #41 Writer: Gene Luen Yang Artist: John Romita Jr., Karl Kerschl Inker: Klaus Janson Colors: Dean White Letters: Rob Leigh.  Superman created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.
Superman #41
Writer: Gene Luen Yang
Artist: John Romita Jr., Karl Kerschl
Inker: Klaus Janson
Colors: Dean White
Letters: Rob Leigh

Superman created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.

A source of potential confusion over DC's handling of Superman is that the character is spread over several interconnected monthly titles. A story arc which began in one title is picked up by another. Several weeks ago, Superman's status quo was drastically altered in the pages of Action Comics #41. This involved among other things, a reduction of his powers and a change in costume. The new status quo was explored in Batman/Superman and Superman/Wonder Woman. But it's only with the recent release of Superman #41 has the cause of the change being revealed, though only partially.

The task of explicating this part of Superman's collectively molded saga is given to newcomer Gene Luen Yang. He joins the already established art team led by John Romita Jr., which lends a sense of continuity because the Superman title hasn't been able to hold on to its writers for very long since George Pérez took over in 2011. Romita and inker Klaus Janson imbue the character with a certain gritty dynamism and down-to-earth presence - qualities not usually associated with past portrayals from the character's more well-known artists.

But it's Yang who's the revelation here. Having established himself in the industry with critically lauded creator-owned passion projects, a high profile corporate property like Superman is uncharted territory for him and his fans. But Yang acquits himself very well, easily updating the well-established relationships between Clark Kent, Jimmy Olsen, and Lois Lane with relaxed, informal, and youthful banter (though Jimmy's use of a smartphone over a DSLR/ILC was ridiculous). I like how Lois rather quickly insinuates herself into an investigation the former two are secretly conducting. The story pays homage to Superman's early crusades against corrupt politicians and arms dealers, as well as the character's propensity to fight giant killer robots. There might be hope that the Superman title will finally have some stability if DC can retain Yang.

7/07/2015

Comic-Con Album Pt 22

Julius Schwartz, Comic-Con International, San Diego Convention Center, Marina District, San Diego, California. © Michael Buntag,.
Julius Schwartz (1915-2004),  Comic-Con exhibit hall.

I never realised the comics legend had his shirts embroidered with his name. Adorable.

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7/06/2015

Comic-Con Album Pt 21

Escalators/stairs, Comic-Con International, San Diego Convention Center, Marina District, San Diego, California. © Michael Buntag.
Staircase, San Diego Convention Center

Comic-Con has become a lot more crowded in the intervening years. But I'd like to think fans can still find a quiet place to read their purchases.

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7/04/2015

Black Canary #1 and Justice League of America #1

Black Canary #1 by Brenden Fletcher, Annie Wu, Tula Lotay, Lee Loughridge, Steve Wands.  Black Canary/Dinah Drake Lance created by Robert Kanigher and Carmine Infantino.
Black Canary #1
Story: Brenden Fletcher
Art: Annie Wu, Tula Lotay
Colors: Lee Loughridge
Letters: Steve Wands

Black Canary/Dinah Drake Lance created by Robert Kanigher and Carmine Infantino.

Black Canary is one of those ensemble characters DC keeps pushing from time to time as a star in her own right. Most of those efforts tend to focus on her skills as one of the world's foremost martial artists/covert operatives. Nothing wrong with that since the premise provides an excuse to show lots of kick-butt action. It's just that it's well trod territory. This latest relaunch still references those chop-sockey roots, but adds a twist which so effectively sets the character apart from the DC stable it has me wondering why no one's ever tried it before. Actually, I've probably answered my own question.

Basically, Dinah Drake or "D.D." is now the frontwoman for a rock band called "Black Canary." The new series can be considered a spinoff of Batgirl, where she was a supporting character for a bit. Brenden Fletcher nonetheless avoids making any explicit connection or even mention to her New 52 history. So it's a little unclear how much of it still applies to her. Just as well. Dinah is portrayed as an enigmatic figure hinting at a mysterious but troubled past. She still beats up a lot of bad guys, oftentimes while still on stage.

As with Batgirl, Fletcher eschews the company's house style for something a bit more alternative in flavour. And as with that series, the art team is largely responsible for making its premise work. Annie Wu's roughly hewn linework combined with Lee Loughridge's bold splashes of bright colors perfectly captures the youthful energy and gritty atmosphere of an indie rock concert. Under Wu's deft hand, Dinah's traditional black costume is subtly altered to look less like a circus outfit  worn by a pulp heroine from the 40s and more like something a punk musician would put on for a live performance. And Steve Wand's typography completes the effect by helpfully repurposing some of the page layouts to look  more like music posters.

This is an enjoyable reimagining of an already familiar character. It's such a departure from previous incarnations that more knowledgeable fans might feel at a loss trying to relate Dinah the rocker to past decades or even the last few years of continuity. So the comic is best read by anyone who can come to it with the fewest preconceptions about the character.

Justice League of America #1 by Bryan Hitch, Howard Porter, Daniel Henriques, Wade von Grawbadger, Andrew Currie, Alex Sinclair, Jeromy, Chris Eliopoulos.  Justice League of America created by Gardner Fox.
Justice League of America #1
Story: Bryan Hitch
Art: Bryan Hitch, Howard Porter
Inks: Daniel Henriques, Wade von Grawbadger, Andrew Currie
Colors: Alex Sinclair, Jeromy Cox
Letters: Chris Eliopoulos

Justice League of America created by Gardner Fox.

This double sized issue seems to ignore whatever changes to the status quo were brought about by the DC You relaunch and goes to heart of what makes the Justice League of America appealing to fans: Some of DC's most famous characters tackling a menace none of them could handle alone. This a classic superhero throwdown with just enough intrigue injected into the proceedings to help break up the monotony of the action and suggest even more ominous forces behind the immediate threat actively working to undermine the team.

The issue's extended length allows for Bryan Hitch to employ his panoramic approach to storytelling. He's assisted by three inkers and two colorists to embellish his detailed, photorealistic art. This results in the faces being a little less consistent and refined. Could the story have been told with a smaller page count? Sure. The pacing is somewhat disjointed, and the plot becomes convoluted towards the end. But much of Hitch's appeal comes from his expansive layouts and grandiose set pieces. The additional space is utilized to showcase each Justice League member's contrasting personalities, abilities and weaknesses. The climactic battle sequence emits a real sense of danger as each of them is taken down by an unexpectedly amped-up villain.

Whatever problems this issue has in terms of plotting, characterization, continuity or pricing ($5.99 is pretty hefty for a pamphlet), there’s something satisfying in reading an iconic approach to such well-established characters. And it's kind of entertaining to see DC indulging one of its marquee creators as he goes for broke, especially after a long absence from the title.

7/03/2015

Comic-Con Album Pt 20

Faye Valentine, Cowboy Bebop PVC Figures, Comic-Con International, San Diego Convention Center, Marina District, San Diego, California. Ilford HP5+ Black and White 35mm negative film. © Michael Buntag.
Faye Valentine,  Comic-Con exhibit hall.

Is Cowboy Bebop still a thing? Or do fans prefer Honey now? I'm not as plugged into anime culture these days.

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